I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Muscular Christians

Martin Henry
Being Protestant in Reformation Britain, by Alec Ryrie, Oxford University Press, xvi+498 pp, £24.99, ISBN 978-0198736653 Proverbially, England is associated with a phlegmatic approach to life. In his heyday, former British prime minister Tony Blair, for example, referred to “Cool Britannia” to evoke the relaxed, even laid-back temper of his country. Back in the sixteenth century, things were different. This monumental, prodigiously researched work of scholarship by Alec Ryrie, head of theology and religion and professor of the history of Christianity at Durham University, aims to bring to life the long-vanished world of Reformation Britain which stands in such bewildering contrast to the Britain of today. To borrow a couple of lines from Louis MacNeice: “It was all so unimaginably different / And all so long ago.” General readers of a book on Reformation Britain might expect it to be largely concerned with the political upheavals of the sixteenth century, the struggle between Henry VIII and the papacy, the emergence of an independent Church of England, with a slightly different trajectory followed in more forthrightly Calvinist-leaning Scotland, the hiccup in the general process associated with the Marian reaction of the 1550s, when Queen Mary tried to win back her realm for Rome, and, naturally, the theological controversies of the time between the Old Church and the Reformers, controversies that embodied the two diverging cultural expressions of Christianity in the West from the sixteenth century onwards, Protestantism and Catholicism. However, while such aspects of the Reformation are not entirely absent from this book they are very much confined to an assumed background. As a result, it is not an easy read for the general reader, being written, it seems, for specialists familiar with much of the terminology associated with the Reformation period (I have to admit to having been initially stumped, for example, by the term “conformist”, which apparently has a technical meaning – those who accepted the Elizabethan settlement in Church matters –and which was introduced without explanation). And while names like William Tyndale, Hugh Latimer, John Foxe, John Donne and George Herbert might be known to most general readers, the vast majority of those mentioned, or their writings, would generally be little known. Robert Persons (sometimes spelt “Parsons”), for instance, appears a few times, and it is indeed indicated that he was a Catholic writer, but that he was a leading sixteenth century English Jesuit is not clear from…



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